“The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis.”
Hi. I’m Merril, and I’m a list-maker. My day usually begins with me making a list while I drink my coffee and read the newspaper. The list invariably includes a combination of daily routine tasks, such as emptying the litter box, which always get crossed-off—YAY!–and work-related items, phone calls I need to make or emails I need to send, appointments, and food I plan to prepare that sometimes get crossed-off. Today’s list includes, “make sauce and lasagna” and “boil wheat berries.” Both of those items are done and crossed-off. Unfortunately, the work assignments are not. Sigh.
I often make several lists for the day. One list is my general list, as described above. The others specify what I need to do for projects I’m working on. Sometimes I even write, “Make a list” on my to-do list. Since I am currently working on encyclopedia projects, I’ve been adding more make list items to my lists. Recently, I’ve had bullet points such as “Finish List of Headwords” (crossed-off) and “Organize Lists of Contributors” on my lists (not crossed-off).
When we host holiday dinners, my list making goes into overdrive. I make menu lists, shopping lists, order of preparation and cooking lists, and house cleaning lists. Passover is coming up in a month, and I’m already thinking about my lists. Remind me to put “Make Passover lists” on my list.
I wonder if list making runs in families? (Hmmm. . .I will have to add Googling that to my list.) My daughters make lists regularly, and at least one of my sisters does, too. (My younger daughter also cuts up index cards into small squares and writes study notes on them. My dad did the same thing when he was in grad school—something she never saw or knew about.)
People are fascinated by lists. You can find compilations of lists on almost any topics. There are even books devoted to lists.
Paul Simon’s song, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” was a hit in 1975. It did not actually list fifty ways, but it did include some:
“You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan,”
Diary entries often list what a person accomplished that day—more of a “done” list than a “to-do” list. For example, in May 17, 1809, Maine midwife Martha Ballard noted that she had “Planted long squash by the hogg pen, sowd pepper grass, sett sage and other roots,” along with her other chores. She was kind of a super woman. If she made lists, I bet everything got crossed-off every day.
Some people view to-do lists with dread, but I don’t. Emily Dickinson wrote,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—.”
Perhaps it is my optimistic nature, but I think of my lists as bits of hope. When I prepare a list at the start of the day, I am anticipating all that I might do, or hope to do, as well as what I have to do. Each task that I complete gets crossed-off. If I don’t finish them all, I just add them to the next day’s list. Some of the items I put on my list are so general—“Work on book” that I know they will not really be completed. But you know what? That’s OK, too. I know it will get done eventually. I have hope, and it perches in my soul, always.